Don Jones on Scramble and Granada’s links with the North West

Granada was important to the North of England?

Yeah. People I knew used to think it was fantastic that I worked at Granada. People thought it was exciting. And it was an exciting place to be, but I think people kind of knew it was quite a fantastic place and it had a certain mystery to it, but it was also very glamorous as well I think. People were fascinated by Coronation Street but they were also fascinated by all the LE (light entertainment) things that were going on.

Would you say that Granada as a company have more connection with the people of the North West than the BBC in Manchester did?

I think so, yeah. And I think there was a time when Granada made a lot more regional programmes than the BBC did. That was how I saw it, anyway. And a lot of those programmes really connected with the region. There were programmes that were of their day. So I had a period, for instance, where I worked on a programme called Scramble which came out of Exchange Flags in Liverpool, which was Granada’s original Liverpool base. That was about arming the unemployed, which is kind of a strange thing to consider now, in this day and age, but there was massive unemployment at the time and we made a weekly programme that went out during the day that was all about telling unemployed people how they could improve their lives. And it was anything from how to make a few bob to…

And wasn’t it also like an exchange thing, where people could appeal if they needed a new fridge, or…

Yeah, we had a phone-in and people used to ring in and say, has anybody got a washing machine that I could have, because I’m… and people would ring in and say, I’ve got a spare washing machine, I’ll deliver it for you. So somebody would get a washing machine. It was a difficult thing to do because you couldn’t talk down to people, you had to be… Jim Walker was the producer, who had some really wacky ideas! I remember we talked him out of doing some things; we just went, it’s a great idea Jim but it’ll cause chaos.

There was one really funny thing, just going back to my parents being involved in the theatre. Jim had this idea that we’d have a busking competition, so we’d invite loads of buskers from all over the North West to compete in this competition, and then we’d get some top agents to look at them and hopefully one of them would get a big break and they’d make loads of money and no longer be unemployed.

So we did it in Bolton Town Hall Square. We had a little OB (outside broadcast), and on the day I was an act short. And Jim said, you’ve got to get another act, we need at least six acts to make it work. I said, what am I going to do? We’re on air in three hours or something. He said, I don’t care, just get somebody else to do something. So I rang my dad who was retired. He was still doing extra work, but he was sitting at home in north Preston. And I said, Dad, what are you doing? He said, I’m just sitting at home reading the paper. I said, would you mind going to Bolton, going to the Town Hall Square, and doing a song and dance or something, I don’t mind what you do. And he said, yeah, what do you want me to do? I said, do whatever you want, I just need somebody to perform, and I explained to him what it was. He said, yeah, when should I go? I said, set off, now get in the car, just go to Bolton.

So I was in the studio in Liverpool when all this is going on, and in the studio we had three judges and some agents. One of the judges was Bernard Manning. So we got to the point where we said, “ladies and gentleman, the next act is Bobby Jones from Preston!” and my Dad got up and did “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady. He did this song and did a bit of a dance, and got a great round of applause from the public. We cut back to studio and Bernard Manning said, he’s got about as much chance as a snowman in hell. Which my dad was very unimpressed with when he heard, but you know, it saved the day, and Jim got his busking competition. There were all sorts going on.

I remember in the nineties, I worked on Century 21 which was a similar idea: making communities better, making society work a bit better, harnessing energies that are there. People who’ve got lots of free time and things they don’t want, if you can pull strands of talent and energy together from a very often indolent population you can create something, and that’s what Scramble did, I remember. But that’s all gone. Now it’s Benefits Street.

I don’t think anybody in television would be interested in making programmes like that anymore anyway. Even if there was a need, they wouldn’t be interested, because there’s no commercial value in it.

It’s not sexy.

It’s was just about doing something that we thought might be good for the region, and the reasons for doing it were genuinely good. You know, some of it was almost misguided, I thought, and it would go off in all sorts of directions, but the basic premise was that you were trying to help people, which is not a starting point in TV anymore.

No, it’s not. Don’t you think we were lucky to be around in a period when such thinking was…

Absolutely. And I don’t think we were cynical about it, actually, I think we thought some of it was a bit daft, but I think we thought the basic premise was good. Charlie Rodger worked on it; it was his first job in TV. I remember explaining the expenses to him and he was saying, no, this can’t be right. I was saying, no, genuinely, you claim these expenses and at the end of the week a man will give it you in cash, and it’s as much as your wages, because we were working in Liverpool and we were Manchester-based. …

There’s a touch of immorality there, alongside the business of helping the unemployed, we were getting paid a fortune.

Leave a Reply